The Deschutes County of Oregon was established on December 13, 1916 due to a surge in population of the area. Two new lumber mills were opened in the area and working class people flocked to central Oregon, the fastest growing population in the entire United States at the time, in hopes of securing a job. However, because the area had previously been so small, there was a serious lack of entertainment. To help solve this issue, T. Monty O’Donnell, long-time resident of the area, financed a state-of-the-art theater in downtown Bend, Oregon named Liberty Theater. With the help of architect Edward H. Keane and $15,000 from O’Donnell, Liberty Theater opened on July 29, 1917.
The Liberty Theater was located at 849 NW Wall Street Bend, OR, making it a prime location of Bend. The 500 seat Liberty outshined O’Donnell’s first theater, the 84 seat “Bend Theater,” the only other theater in the county. Liberty was designed by Keane to feature movie and vaudeville shows. Leading up to Liberty’s opening in July 1917, manager Ward H. Coble announced that the first movie to be shown on opening night would be “Broadway Jones” with George M. Cohan; the silent comedy film is considered to be a lost film today. Only top films would be played at the theater including films from film companies like Paramount Pictures and Universal and charge an attendance fee of 15 cents for children and 25 cents for adults. The theater was thriving and the people of Bend were selling out most showings. It was not until about six years after opening day, that the theater would see its first decline.
The only competition that Liberty Theater had was another theater in Bend called “Grand Theater.” In 1921, both theaters were sold to Sparks Amusement Company for $20,000. The company decided to upgrade both theaters drastically. However, only two years later in 1923, Sparks Amusement Company sold both theaters once again to Claude Smith & O.M. Whittington under the management of Byron A. Stover. While the upgrades that Sparks Amusement Company made in 1921 helped Liberty, a new and better theater named “Capitol Theater” would be the ultimate downfall of Liberty Theater. By the 1930s, Stover was now the owner of both Liberty and Capitol. Stover tried to improve Liberty by installing a high fidelity system in 1936to be on the same level of Capitol but without success. The Liberty Theater closed in October of 1941.
While the name “Liberty Theater” was no more, the building at 849 NW Wall Street Bend was converted in the 1950s for office and retail space that was once the orchestra area of the theater. However, by the 1980s, the balcony area of the theater was being used to show films under the name “Fine Arts Theater.” Then in the 2010s, an art collective named “At Liberty” was opened in the building. The collective operated out of the building until 2020 when it dissolved into another local art collective company. Since 2020, the building has been under construction for a “rehabilitation” to return the theater to its original historic design by the current owners Tom and Marilyn Cirello.